THE Supreme Court Thursday rejected a petition of the Election Commission of India (ECI) to gag the media from reporting judges’ oral observations which do not form part of the court’s order.
A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud held freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) also extended to reporting of court proceedings.
The bench was ruling on a petition filed by the EC against the Madras High Court’s “oral” observations saying that the EC was singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid19 and its officers should probably be booked for murder.
The top court said it could not stop the media from reporting.
“Constitutional authorities can do better than complaining and seeking fetters on the media”, the bench, which also had Justice MR Shah, said.
With the advent of technology, it said, real-time updates of hearings are given. “This constitutes a virtual extension of the open court. This is not a cause of apprehension but a celebration of our constitutional ethos which bolsters the judiciary,” the court asserted.
The bench, however, added that the high court’s remarks about murder charges were harsh. “But it was just to implore action and not to attribute any culpability to the constitutional body. Since oral words are not part of judgement, there is nothing to expunge,” it said.
The court also lauded the role of the High Courts during the Covid19 crisis. It said they are effectively supervising pandemic management.
The EC in its appeal stated the remarks made by the high court were uncalled for, blatantly disparaging and derogatory.
It said the court made these remarks without any proof or providing adequate opportunities to allay such a perception.
“The high court ought to have appreciated that the Election Commission India enjoying a constitutional status, cannot be put to embarrassment by such baseless oral observations which lead to their publication in the press and media and thereby undermine the sanctity of another constitutional authority”, the EC stated.
It added the remarks resulted in a police complaint against a Deputy Election Commissioner after the media widely disseminated the oral observations of the Madras High Court.
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.
(Story to be updated once the court’s order is out on its website)